Cape May, New Jersey.
Natural infrastructure in Cape May, New Jersey. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Policy

Water Resources Development Act

Modernizing America’s Water Management Strategies

Water resources development legislation is an opportunity for Congress to strengthen communities using nature-based solutions proven to lessen flood impacts, improve natural areas and support the economy.

Congress develops water resources legislation to modernize water resources management at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). Through nature-based approaches and cost-effective strategies, the Corps can deliver projects that protect America’s natural resources, support economic and recreational opportunities and enhance community resilience.

The Nature Conservancy has partnered extensively with the Corps to advance policies and projects that can effectively and efficiently deliver environmental benefits while meeting the needs of people. 

Infographic of Cape May flood damage.
Nature-based solutions work Flood damage costs at Lower Cape May Meadows went from $143,713 before restoration to $3,713 after restoration. © The Nature Conservancy

Nature-Based Solutions at the Corps

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 was a landmark success for advancing natural infrastructure within the Corps. 

For the first time, Congress directed the Corps to consider natural and nature-based features, alone or in combination with gray infrastructure, when studying the feasibility of flood risk management, storm damage reduction and ecosystem restoration projects. WRDA 2018 reinforced the requirement to consider natural infrastructure during project design.

While the Corps has a clear obligation to consider natural infrastructure during project design, Congress still needs to take steps to promote greater use of natural infrastructure.

Nature—if fully utilized by the Corps and local communities— has the potential to help address water infrastructure challenges. For example, coastal wetlands prevented more than $625 million in property damages during Hurricane Sandy and reduced property damages throughout the Northeast by 10% on average. 

WRDA 2020 Success

The 2020 version of WRDA was the most nature forward WRDA bill ever. It’s the strongest signal by Congress yet that the Corps needs to prioritize projects that are resilient, have multiple benefits and include nature-based solutions. Those solutions include the use of reefs that break storm waves and wetlands that absorb floodwaters. 

Specifically, WRDA 2020 requires the Corps to give natural infrastructure full consideration during the project-planning phase. It also ensures nature-based projects do not get penalized through an unfavorable cost-share requirement and updates Corps planning guidance to better account for the benefits of natural infrastructure. 

These and other changes will help level the playing field for natural infrastructure to compete with built infrastructure solutions during the project-planning phase. While natural infrastructure will not be the right solution everywhere, we know that natural infrastructure is an effective and cost-effective solution that can outperform other alternatives when given a fair look.

An invasive silver carp is seen jumping out of the Missouri River, a tributary of the Mississippi River.
Asian carp An invasive silver carp is seen jumping out of the Missouri River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. © Chris Helzer/TNC